On a two to one vote, the Teton County, Idaho Board of County Commissioners has rejected a conditional use permit that would have allowed construction of a new LDS Church House near Victor. Following a sometimes emotional hearing Thursday night, the panel concluded the proposal did not meet three of four criteria.
The Commission determined the location, within Victor's impact area near Highway 33 and 7000 South, was not compatible with other uses in the neighborhood. The Board also decided the church would have placed an undue burden on existing public services and facilities, and was not in compliance with the objectives of the county's comprehensive plan.
Commissioners Kathy Rinaldi and Bob Benedict voted against the CUP and Commissioner Kelly Park in favor.
Chairman Rinaldi said, "I did not look at this with a bias. If this was another facility with the same intensity of use, I would have had the same concerns." And, she believes the church could have met county criteria had it been moved closer to existing infrastructure. Rinaldi added, "I will lead the charge to find an appropriate location for this building and advocate for it."
The property is owned by Blackfoot Farms, LLC. The presiding bishopric of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints pursued the conditional use permit as a potential buyer.
Rinaldi said the proposed building site was inconsistent with several objectives of Teton County's Comprehensive Plan. Traffic studies indicated it could have increase traffic by 30% and only provided one exit. She also pointed out that while the applicant would pay for capital improvements, because a religious organization is tax exempt, the county would have faced responsibility for its ongoing maintenance.
Blackfoot Farms attorney Sean Moulton called the decision "myopic." "By the standard they've applied, there's not a location in the county that they would find acceptable for an LDS Church House." He thinks the case is "ripe for appeal" to District Court under the federal "Religous Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act" and the Idaho "Free Exercise of Religion Protected" act.
A decision to appeal has not yet been made.